All Tucked In: Clownfish in a Carpet Anemone Mantle

Orange Skunk Clownfish (Amphiprion sandaracinos)
Orange Skunk Clownfish (Amphiprion sandaracinos)
by B. N. Sullivan

This cute little fish really didn't want to have its picture taken.  It was hovering above the tentacles of a carpet anemone when we first spotted it, but as we approached, the fish dived under the anemone's mantle to hide.

I settled in at close range, selected the settings on my camera, and just waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally the little clownfish peeked out (as we knew it would) and I got my shot.

The fish is an Orange Skunk Clownfish (Amphiprion sandaracinos). I'm not sure of the anemone species, but I believe it belongs to the genus Stichodactyla. I took the photo at  Pulau Mantehage, one of the islands in Bunaken National Park, a marine park in Indonesia.



A Fish with Camouflaged Eyes



Crocodile Fish (Papilloculiceps longiceps), Red Sea
Crocodile Fish (Papilloculiceps longiceps), Red Sea
by B. N. Sullivan

Many animals in the sea have evolved colors and forms that allow them to blend in with their surroundings. Some animals use their camouflage to hide from predators — and some predators use camouflage to fool their prey.

The critter in the photo above is a Crocodile Fish (Papilloculiceps longiceps), a bottom-dwelling ambush predator from the Red Sea.  The mottled coloring of this fish matches the sandy areas were it likes to lie in wait for its prey (usually other fishes).  Its body shape, including its head, is quite flat. This "low-rise" profile also makes it less noticeable to fishy passers-by.

Sometimes an animal’s eyes are the one feature that will interrupt the camouflage effect and give it away, but these images illustrate how even a critter’s eyes can be somewhat camouflaged. Take a good look at the eyes of the Crocodile Fish and notice the lappets — the small irregular fleshy flaps that partially obscure the eyeballs — a part of its disguise.

Below is a macro image of the eye of a Crocodile Fish who was nice enough to stay very still even when I came in very, very close to take the photo!  The photo is of a different individual than the one in the image at the top of the page, but it is the same species.

Macro photo of eye lappets on a Crocodile Fish
Macro photo of eye lappets on a Crocodile Fish

Note: A portion of this article was published previously in Photosynthesis on ScienceBlogs.com.

Living on the Wreck of the Zenobia: A Mediterranean Moray

Mediterranean Moray (Muraena helena)
Mediterranean Moray (Muraena helena)
by B. N. Sullivan

This is a Mediterranean Moray (Muraena helena).   We discovered this individual while diving on the Zenobia, a large shipwreck in Larnaca Bay, Cyprus. The eel was living in an algae-encrusted drain near what had been one of the big ship's lifeboat stations.

The Mediterranean Moray is known to be territorial (like many other species in its family, Muraenidae).  Thus, we were not surprised when the local dive guide who was escorting us told us that this particular Moray had been residing there for quite awhile, and usually could be seen poking its head out of the same hole on any given day.

This is a carnivorous species.  A nocturnal hunter, the Mediterranean Moray preys on fishes and crustaceans.  This eel also will scavenge dead animal carcasses.

Note:  The photo on this page was taken in 1992, during one of seven dives we made on the wreck of the Zenobia. In 2008,  I wrote about those dives in a series of articles on The Right Blue.  If you are interested, you can have a look at these posts about our dives on the Zenobia:


Finally, here is a link to a recent documentary video about the Wreck of the Zenobia.  The underwater videography is good, and the wreck itself looks much the same as when we saw it years ago.  It looked to us as though many more fish now call the wreck home -- but, alas, we saw no sign of our Mediterranean Moray.

UPDATE:  Okay, we just looked at the film again, and guess what we saw: A moray! [at about 23:24 minutes].  There's no way to know if it's the same moray, or another of the same species, but in any case, the wreck of the Zenobia does still have a resident Mediterranean Moray.

A Queen Conch snail, giving us the eye

Eyes and proboscis of the Queen Conch (Strombus gigas)
Eyes and proboscis of a Queen Conch (Strombus gigas)
by B. N. Sullivan

Conch shells, like all seashells, are created by secretions from the mantle of the snail that lives inside. This happens gradually, over the snail's lifetime.  Most people have seen empty Conch shells, yet few have seen the snails that are the natural inhabitants of those large, heavy shells.  Fewer still realize that those critters have wonderful stalked eyes.

All of the snails in the family Strombidae, to which Conchs belong, have these stalked eyes.  If you come across a live Conch shell while diving, you can see the snail's eyes for yourself if you are patient.  If you pick up the shell and turn it over, the animal inside will retract into the shell almost immediately.  Set the shell down with the glossy aperture exposed and just wait.  Eventually -- say, in five or ten minutes -- the snail will extend its eyes to look around.  If you are lucky, you also may get to see its proboscis (tubular mouth), as in the photo above.

The snail in an upended Conch shell has the ability to right itself, but to do so takes quite a bit of effort on the part of the critter.  So, if you do handle one or set it aperture side up to try and catch a glimpse of the eyes, please do return it to its natural aperture-down position before you leave it.  The photo below shows the snail's eye peeking out of the shell as it moves along the sand in its normal position.

The creature in the photos on this page is a Queen Conch (Strombus gigas), a species common to the Caribbean. I photographed this one during a night dive off the north coast of Cayman Brac.

Queen Conch snail (Strombus gigas), Cayman Islands
An eye peeks out as a Queen Conch snail crawls along the sand